“I’ll have to look that one up on a map,” was what my mum said when I told her that I was in the capital of Suriname. To be honest, if you’d asked me a year ago I might have guessed the South Pacific or Central Africa... However if you’d asked your average Dutch person, they’d probably have pointed right to the spot (Northern South America squished between French Guiana and Guyana). Why would a Hollander know this? Because Suriname is a former Dutch colony, Dutch is Suriname’s official language and around 400,000 Surinamese citizens live in the Netherlands (the population of Suriname itself is just under 500,000!).
As the focal point of this small country, Paramaribo manages to mix together grandness with quaintness in a very classy way. The historic centre comprises 18th and 19th century neo-Normanic wooden-panelled buildings all painted white and dark green and well-restored with nice touches, like flowerpots and ornate carved trimmings. The Presidential Palace is grand enough for any world President and the large wooden cathedral very impressive to see. On the riverside is Fort Zeeland which has some good examples of Dutch architecture and a museum. Contrastingly, further up the riverfront the grandeur dissipates in a vibrant mix of cultures as you approach the local market – a bustling and colourful affair selling fruits, fishes and cheap clothes.
We loved wandering the streets of this small city – it was compact and felt relatively secure even outside the historic centre (though best to stick to what you know at night, on advice of the locals). Dotted around the city were fantastic Dutch and Indonesian cafes selling good pancakes, bitterballen and gado-gado. For an even cheaper bite there are the great East Indian roti shops selling delicious piping-hot and spicy potato curry with rotis and vegetables. As for nightlife, the city boasts an enormous amount of casinos and Rhino spent one evening teaching me roulette though I quickly tired of this and dragged him off to karaoke where some Dutch students were singing Dutch folk songs.
With great regret, the capital Paramaribo was the only place that we visited in Suriname but our three day stay was lovely enough to have me wanting come back for seconds one day when I have more time and the opportunity to delve into the Amazonian interior. The people were friendly, the hostels good-quality and the food delicious and often spicy!